11:15 p.m. update: Jurors have been excused for the weekend in the capital murder trial of Shriya Patel.Judge David Crain has said they will resume their deliberations Monday morning.
The 27-year-old woman from India, who appeared relieved with the verdict, had been facing a charge of capital murder in the death of Bimal Patel, 29, and would have received an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole had she been convicted on the higher charge.
Jurors were released for the night Monday after five hours of deliberating Patel’s punishment. They will resume Tuesday morning.
Her conviction came in about an hour of deliberations after District Judge David Crain placed an alternate juror on the panel when one woman failed to report for duty Monday morning. The foreperson of the jury said that woman had been giving “drastically inappropriate responses” as they weighed the case Friday for more than eight hours, and prosecutors presented an Austin police missing persons report filed late Sunday that showed she had been found as an “emotionally disturbed person down on Sixth Street.”
In closing arguments in the sentencing phase Monday afternoon, the state had asked jurors to come back with a life sentence for Shriya Patel, who prosecutors have said lured Bimal Patel into the bathtub of their North Austin apartment, doused him with gasoline and set him ablaze about a week after she moved to the United States.
Should she be given probation, she would be free to walk the streets of India upon immediate deportation, Assistant District Attorney Jim Young said. Fellow prosecutor David Levingston contended the case was about justice for Bimal Patel and sending a message to the community.
“It’s about justice because this woman who sits here before you took that man’s life in the most horrendous way one can imagine,” Levingston said.
Defense lawyers Jackie Wood and Joe James Sawyer sought probation for the Shriya Patel, who they said had never been convicted of a felony and who they argued had only been guilty of assisting her husband commit suicide. Sawyer said there were no witnesses to the crime and too many holes in the case for jurors to hand her a weighty punishment.
“I wish we had witnesses we could call. We can’t. They are half a world a way,” he said. “She is a stranger in this country.”
On the stand earlier Monday, friends of Bimal Patel remembered the 29-year-old aspiring screenwriter and film producer for his infectious enthusiasm and big ideas. He was positive to the point of endearing naivety, a dreamer and a self-proclaimed social butterfly who touched many people on a personal level and had grown up with reverence for his parents’ marriage, his friends testified.
Gabe Hogan said Bimal Patel had hoped to find the same kind of life partner in Shriya Patel, and he recalled his close friend describing her as a strong, witty and funny young woman unlike any other Indian woman he had met.
In the courtroom, Bimal Patel’s friends wept as Rob Newman recounted his first trip to the hospital to see Bimal Patel after the incident. He called Patel a fighter and said, “There was no defeat in that room.”
The first thing that struck Hogan about it was its terrible odor, and, he recalled his friend looked like a monster. “It was worse than anything I could imagine,” Hogan said, crying.
But when the two friends locked eyes, it was as though nothing had ever changed, Hogan testified. Even as Bimal Patel lay in pain, he reached out to Hogan as though to comfort him, Hogan said.
On behalf of the defense, Shriya Patel’s young brother, 23-year-old Mrugesh Patel, testified from India via Skype. In response to questions from Wood, he contested the state’s portrayal of his sister as an upper-class young woman.
She had not studied in London — as previously stated in court — and had been raised in a middle-class family in Dubai, he said. Their father worked in a factory, he said. Their mother was a housewife.
His sister “had never been any sort of trouble like this before,” he said.